48 hours in Kolkata

1st Nov 2019
Photo of 48 hours in Kolkata by Megha Paul

For a Probashi Bengali like me, childhood summer holidays meant some heavy-duty pampering in grandparents’ homes back in Kolkata, sharing food and stories with your cousins and sight-seeing to appease your cultural cravings. The sepia-tinted worn out photo albums still emanate its warmth but as time went by, I grew up to enter the mad rat race. This is the time I realized why it is truly called the ‘City of Joy’. A city that likes to take it easy, where the heart rules the head, where both the bygone and the new coexist in perfect harmony, Kolkata is a way of life.

Day 1

For moving around in the city, Kolkata offers a plethora of options. Take a ride in its bright yellow Ambassador taxis, local buses, shared auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, the underground metro and the hand-pulled rickshaws. However, be ready for some flexibility in your travel schedule during the rush hour traffic jams.

Day 1

10 am: Victoria Memorial

On the first day, I decided to explore the heritage belt in South Kolkata. The first pit stop in my sojourn in the city was one of its most iconic structures, the pristine white Victoria Memorial. Built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1901, it was completed only two decades later. Constructed in the Indo-Saracenic architectural style by Sir William Emerson, the monument makes perfect use of white marble.

Being the crazy history buff, I was impressed with the extraordinary collection of manuscripts, colonial-era paintings and other remarkable memorabilia. The memorial hall boasts of the largest collection of Indian landscapes in oils and aquatints by Thomas and William Daniell as well as a library with some rare titles of the 19th century. For that perfect selfie, you can then head to the photogenic view of the manicured gardens across reflecting ponds. In case you are in a super holiday mood, don’t forget to take the horse-drawn carriages in front of the Victoria Memorial entrance.

11 am: Going vintage

To experience the old-world charm of the city, I then hopped on to the tram. A legacy of the British, the Kolkata tram remains the oldest surviving tram service in Asia. Weaving and wending its way through the length and breadth of the city, I soaked in the nostalgia of the glorious past of the city. Like the service of the tram, I also got more laidback. The trams of Kolkata have been featured in many Bollywood movies such as Barfi, Kahaani and Parineeta. So obviously, even I felt like a movie star for once.

11.30 am: Maidan Race Course

My next stop was one of the country's largest race course-- Maidan. Here the most prominent sweepstakes races are Queen Elizabeth II Cup race, Calcutta Gold Cup and Indian Champion Cup. Despite of the fact that it offers five racing tracks, a helipad, a golf course, a lake on the premises and polo grounds at the centre, do check the schedule in the morning dailies before you head this way. It’s obviously more fun when you can see the races in action here.

12.30 pm: New Market

There is a common saying out here. If something is not available in New Market, there are very low chances of you getting it elsewhere in the city. The shopaholic in me decided to test the saying and thus, my next stop in the city was this grand Gothic-style building with its clock tower. Originally meant for British gentry who disliked shopping alongside the natives, the S.S. Hogg Market, now commonly known as the New Market, is flooded with street peddlers. The labyrinthine network of shops sell products ranging from books to clothes, food to video games- almost any commodity imaginable. You can look at amazing silver jewellery at throwaway prices.

And for all you foodies out there, New Market is a truckload of joy and a haven for cheap food. I started with the drool-worthy king of Kolkata street food -- phucchkas and chaats. You will find hundreds of temporary kiosks selling these. For lip smacking rolls, try Nizam’s and Badshah. To satiate my sweet cravings, I visited Nahoum and Sons for its delicious brownies and rum balls as well a rich selection of cakes, biscuits, pastries and breads fresh from the oven.

2.30 pm: College Street

If you want to snuggle your way through rows of homes, printing presses and even more bookstores, head to what is called Kolkata’s Boi Para or College Street. Before digging my way through these books, I walked down from College Street to the mythic café- Coffee House to pay homage to the great Adda culture. This place is a symbol of ‘Calcutta’ heritage amidst change. However, the cheap, dishwater coffee is not the attraction. This unpretentious high-ceilinged place was once a meeting hub of freedom fighters, bohemians and revolutionaries. So come here for the nostalgia of the intellectualism of the bygone past, the bohemian rhapsodies of the 80’s, the zeal of the Naxals and moreover, to just fuel up your tank before you hit the mighty book market.

I then hit the road, which is dotted with endless numbers of book shops. The maze of bylanes offer mainstream textbooks, guide books, pulp bestsellers and what not. You will come across enthusiastic shopkeepers who will show you what you want. In case you are having trouble finding a particular book at a specific shop, the shopkeeper will also find and get it for you from another shop. So this saves you from pounding the pavement to search for your book.

4 pm: Belur Math

After satiating the bibliophile in me, it was time for some spiritual pursuit. I took a taxi ride to the peaceful Belur Math. The Temple, located on the banks of the Hooghly River, was founded by Swami Vivekananda and is now the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math religious organization. The temple incorporates architecture and designs from Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. Housed inside the Math is the Ramkrishna Sarada Mandir, where regular prayers take place. This is the place where Swami Vivekananda resided and died in 1902. A monument commemorated in his memory stands within the Math premises right beside River Hooghly. I chose to walk around the gardens for a while before entering the temple. Photography is strictly prohibited at Belur Math. So make sure you don’t snap any photos as there are plenty of security guards around.

After visiting Belur Math, I walked down to the river pier and stepped into a local crude motor ferry boat to reach the Dakshineswar Kali Temple.

5 pm: Dakshineswar Kali Temple

On the opposite side of the Hooghly River (which is a distributary arm of the River Ganges) and a boat ride away from Belur Math is the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. Sitting snug on the banks of the Hooghly, this temple beckons big crowds of worshippers who can also bathe in the river. Dedicated to goddess Kali, the construction of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple was done between 1847 and 1855, covering an area of about 25 acres. Ramakrishna Paramhansa, was also associated with this temple as a priest and finally achieved his spiritual vision in this temple itself. I walked into his meditation room, which is open to the visitors.

The entire compound is sort of a fair, showcasing Kolkata street food, stalls and plenty of religious objects for sale. There is no way you can miss grabbing a bite of the puchkas, Naleen gud sandesh, churmur and masala lemon tea. However, be an early bird for this one.

6.30 pm: Princep Ghat

I decided to spend my evening at the Princep Ghat by letting myself free in the tranquility of the calm shore water. The river lapping up the ghats is the perfect prescription to find your own peace. It also makes for a brilliant photo opportunity while the sun sets amidst the backdrop of the Howrah Bridge and the Vidyasagar Setu. A boat ride at the Princep Ghat is an experience anyone visiting Kolkata should indulge in.

8 pm: 6 Ballygunge Place

For a bite of authentic Bengali cuisine, I head to 6 Ballygunge Place for dinner. Providing the perfect ambience for a multi-course Bengali meal, it is housed in a hundred-year-old bungalow decorated with pictures of old Kolkata. The highlights include the kasha mangsho, a traditional Bengali spicy mutton curry dish and the daab chingri, prawns cooked in mustard (a favourite amongst Bengalis) and cooked inside of a hollowed-out coconut. My favourites on the list include the Gondhoraj Fried Chicken, Chitol Maachher Peti Roast and Kancha Lanka Dhonepata Murgi.

Day 2

Day 2

8 am: Mullik Ghat Flower Market

I start my day early by visiting the lively Mullik Ghat flower market. Located directly under the Howrah Bridge, the market is open all hours of the day. But the mornings are the best time to be here. I walked along the colourful chaos of flowers, transporters, and shoppers. After exploring this lively scene, I took a stroll across the renowned Howrah Bridge. One of the world’s busiest pedestrian bridges, it offers great views of Kolkata, the Hooghly River, and the constant stream of people crossing the bridge.

9 am: Kalighat Temple

I then headed for some blessings to the famous Kalighat Temple, dedicated to goddess Kali. One of the 51 shakti peeths where the right toe of Dakshayani is believed to have fallen, Kalighat attracts huge crowds every day. Be ready to stand in long queues as the line to get in the actual temple and see the black stone deity with golden hands and tongue is sometimes too long. Another word of caution is that you might encounter irritating touts on the way who keep asking for donations. So just ignore them and move on.

10 am: Jorasanko Thakurbari

Jorasanko Thakurbari, the ancestral home of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, encapsulates the history of an era, of a gargantuan personality who towers over modern India and the idea of the nation even now. I decided to pay tribute to the Bard of India by visiting the house where he was born and even breathed his last. The house turned museum exhibits the manuscripts, journals, paintings and photographs of Tagore. Do not miss the Vichitra Bhavan section that gives an insight into his lifestyle, Tagore’s study and his self-composed wedding invitation in his wife Mrinalini Devi’s room.

11 am: Kumartuli

My experience at the potter’s district of the city that churns out some of the best earthen idols of Goddess Durga was almost surreal. Carrying a history, this area represents a special place where the goddess is given life. I walked through the small and narrow workshops of the idol-makers. You will find many locals busy giving finishing touches to the idols and foreigners armed with cameras at this large open-air exhibition space.

12 pm: Burrabazar

I took a local bus to reach the city’s most nostalgic landmark shopping institutions, Burrabazar for some shopping spree. Starting as a hub to process yarn and cloth from neighbouring areas like Dhaka during the British times, it slowly developed into a wholesale market. Today, the popular saying is that for the right price you could even buy the eye of a tiger here. I came across enthusiastic buyers looking out for fancy new age gizmos to mundane ordinary wares. Among the many sub-clusters present here, I headed to Raja Katra for spices. For hardware and textiles, head to Manohar Das Katra. Shoppers can get great deals at Khangrapatti and Vikram Chand market for imported electronic goods and gorgeous artificial jewellery.

I also stopped for some roll on the way. You should try the chicken or the egg roll. However, the focus here is less on hygiene and more on taste. As it seemed like my meal was incomplete, I topped it up with Rosogolla (a ball of cottage cheese dipped in sugar syrup) and mishti doi (sweet curd). You’ll find these at the local sweet shops. If you have a sweet tooth, it’s a sin to miss them during your visit here. Even if you don’t like sweets, they’re completely worth a try.

2 pm: Science City

Caterpillar ride, cable cars, monorail cycles, road train and butterfly nursery…To experience all this and a lot more, I then headed for the Science City. The largest science centre of India offers an evolution park inside the complex with 26 dinosaurs, 71 robotic pre-historic animals and 140 plant models that depict the story of evolution through the years. There are two ways to enter this science and amusement park. You can walk straight into it or choose the second option like I did. In the quest for some more adventure, I flew in through a rope way, which gave great views of not only the park but also a large section of the city. The other main attractions of Science City are Space Theatre, Time Machine, 3D shows, Dynamotion and Natural Science Park.

4 pm: Nicco Park

From the science park, I decided to indulge in some thrilling entertainment. My next halt was Nicco Park with its wide assortment of rides, food options and shopping avenues. This 40-acre Disneyland of West Bengal features over 35 attractions. Among the rides, Water Chute, Cable Car, Water Coaster, Family Carousel, Pirate Ship, Toy Train, Striking Cars and Bumping Boat are worth trying. For an utterly adrenaline-charged experience, try ‘Cyclone - The Roller Coaster’ ride. Within the park, there is an exciting water park called Wet-O-Wild, which features water slides, an artificial wave pool, a kid’s pool and a giant waterfall.

6 pm: Park Street

As my day came to an end, I spent the last couple of hours at Kolkata’s original joy factor, Park Street. I walked down the lane and stepped into Peter Cat to gorge on their iconic Chelo Kebabs and relive the British nostalgia. Do not miss the signature Bloody Mary as well. As time was limited and the food options unlimited, I then went to Mocambo and tried the exotic Prawn Cocktails and chicken a la Kiev. If Chinese is your cuisine, head to Flavours of China. Needless to say, you cannot miss Flurys. A part of the heritage of the city, the confectionery section and all their excellent sweet and savoury items, cakes and breads await you.

8 pm: Someplace Else

And you cannot leave the city without experiencing its night life, vibrant clubs and ambient live music scene. The first destination I headed to was Someplace Else. The Brtish-styled pub is a favorite haunt for locals and tourists alike. Come here for its live music, mostly Western rock, played by bands, amazing drinks and great finger food. My next halt for the night was Tantra. Spread over a sprawling 5000 sq. feet, this is your place in case you are looking at burning the dance floor. So let your hair down and paint the town red. My third and final destination for the night was Aqua in The Park Hotel. Ideal for lounge lovers, this poolside lounge is your answer for a weekend outing. As the in-house DJ played some great music, I relished the sumptuous finger foods and sat by the open air pool.

As my 48 hours in this city came to an end and I waved adieu to it, I made a silent promise to myself. A promise to return to this feeling and fervour soon. Not just like any other city to visit and click photos, I promised to come back and soak my senses in it to realise the actual charm of this city all over again.

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